Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Just Chillin' with Port

In the middle of summer the last thing I would want to drink is Port. Or so I thought until the most recent tasting put on by Bluebird wine shop. Penny, the manager, has done a great job of arranging interesting and plentiful wine tastings this summer.

The trick in the summer is chillin', not only you but the wine as well. Port may have a stuffy, stodgy reputation but it was a fabulous to drink once it'd been cooled down a bit. Henry Shotten, the winemaker was in attendance and he recommended slightly chilled port, not just for Tawney's but Vintage Port as well. Purists are probably frothing at the mouth at the idea of slightly chilled Port but it does work. For the complete history of Port click here, fascinating and quite illustrious but I'd rather talk about what I drank.

The Warres Otima 10 year old Tawny was served up nicely chilled. The Otima bottle and packaging was redesigned in 1999 to give it a more contemporary feel and appeal to younger consumers. It has proven to be very successful going from sales of 2000 cases in 1999 to over 28,0oo cases in 2007.

The tawny style of port is not as heavy as vintage port, lighter in colour and feel. The wine is aged in small oak barrels allowing for controlled oxidation. The ports used in the blend are a minimum of 10 years old but can be older. Tawny is released ready to drink, no need to lay it down or wait decades to drink. As a matter of fact, a stopper is used instead of cork because the wine is not made to be laid down.

The Otima was tawny pale amber with a reddish tinge and flecks of dark brown on the edges. Despite the fact that it was chilled, aromas of candied nuts, nutty orange peel and dried fruits wafted up and I felt like diving right into the glass. It had a delicate, honeyed palate with notes of hazelnut on the finish. It was light and fruity, not heavy or sticky sweet. A lovely alternative aperitif for a hot summer's day.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Patagonian Pinot

Patagonia. Howling wolves, wind-driven snow storms over a desolate landscape and survival of the fittest. That's what I imagine Patagonia to be like, and I'm sure you can find that out there, but it's not all Bear Grylls and Ironman. Valle Perdido is a new winery/spa resort in Patagonia that has recently started producing excellent wines. Penny Johns, manager of the Bluebird wine shop, recommended today's vino to me. She says it's one of her new favs and after gulping it down, I can say I wholeheartedly agree with her.

It's another pinot noir from S. America but this time from the "right" side of the Andes, as the Argentines love to remind me. Argentina's flagship grape is Malbec but if you scratch the surface of their viticultural portfolio, you'll find that they are beginning to branch out into other varietals and doing a very good job of it.

Valle Perdido has a state of the art facility but their philosophy is to use as little intervention as possible and let nature take it's course. They get up at the crack of dawn to pick the grapes and use a gravity system to move the must (or juice) around the winery. This helps to preserve the aromas and flavours of the wine.

The 2007 Pinot Noir was a pure delight from start to finish. Before we knew it, this little baby was gone, baby, gone. Looking at it, it was a clear, pomegrante red in the glass. A fresh, red fruit nose was the first thing I noticed. Then it evolved into perfumed raspberry and cherry scented aromas with a hint of sweet spice. Swishing it around my mouth, I found spicy red cherry, strawberry and a warm toastiness with a fruity finish. There was one last, lingering, bitter chocolate note that seemed to hang on by it's fingertips before slipping away. The tannins were very soft, almost velvety which made for an easy drinking, medium bodied wine.

An impressive example of Patagonian pinot noir and for less then a tenner. In these credit crunchy times, it's good to know you don't have to scrimp on quality wine. Keep'em coming!

14% alc
RRP £8.99
Bluebird Wine Shop

Monday, 21 July 2008

Falanghina (or anything but pinot grigio)

For those of you looking for an Italian white other then the ubiquitous pinot grigio, Falanghina is your grape. Falan-what? Unless you spend a lot of time in Rome or Naples, you probably aren't familiar with this grape but you should be at least on nodding terms with the wines that come from it.

Falanghina is grown primarily in the northern regions of Campania and produces wines that are quite aromatic, rich and minerally. Campania encompasses Naples, the Amalfi Coast and that Mediterranean jewel, the isle of Capri, where I once had a lost weekend with some crazy Italian but that's for another blog. Most of the vineyards are situated inland, on the hills of the Apennine Mountains, thus escaping the scorching summer heat while at the same time enjoying the ocean breezes. Perfect conditions for white wine production. Campania has been producing wines for over 2700 years when the Greeks first brought their vines over but it's only been recently with the boom in Italian wine that this region has finally seen investment. In 1970, only 3 wineries were making wine commercially. At last count, that number had blossomed to over 120 wineries.

We got an allotment the other day of a Falanghina '06 produced by Epicuro. The wine was quite pale, a watery lemon-green colour was the best we came up with to describe it. But what a nose! So aromatic and intense. Passionfruit, papaya, very ripe banana, slight vanilla tinge. This had tropical fruit written all over it. There was a slight wisp of alcohol on the nose but it was more like an afterthought. I only noticed it after some time.

On the palate, med-bodied, slightly waxy, and rich. Very fruity but dry, again with the ripe banana and tropical fruitiness but also some minerality around the edges, medium acidity and a clean finish. It was reminiscent of a New Zealand S. Blanc but it didn't have that bracing acidity that is the hallmark of those wines and was richer and fuller. A food friendly wine that would go well with a light lunch and have some left over to drink in the afternoon (if you can resist). Something other than Pinot Grigio from Italy that is worth seeking out.

RRP £6.99

Friday, 18 July 2008

No Burgundy Clones here - Viña Leyda P. Noir '07

Last week we tried a new Pinot that arrived in the shop - Viña Leyda Pinot Noir, Las Brisas Vineyard, 2007.

I like a good Burgundy any day but I keep an open mind to the New World, especially when it comes to Pinot Noir. I've had some great stuff from New Zealand and the Pacific Northwest. There is a difference, no doubt, but I think that good producers of pinot noir in the New World do their best to stamp their own identity on the  wine rather then try and make a Burgundy clone.

The Leyda pinot noir is made with fruit sourced from a single vineyard, Las Brisas. Brisas means breeze in Spanish and this vineyard is situated on the southwest slope of the estate, where there is less direct sunlight and more exposure to the ocean breeze, which keeps the grapes cool and allows them to develop slowly. 

When I opened this one, the first thing that hit me was a rather fruity attack to my nose and I hadn't even poured it yet! This wine had a full-on nose of red cherries, ripe strawberries and raspberries. After a minute or so, we began to detect spicy notes and hints of bramble,wild herbs and a subtle smokiness. The wine spent 8 months in used French oak barrels, which was apparent but not overbearing. 

On tasting it, I thought it had a juicy, mouthwatering palate of ripe red berries, cherry and bramble with a bit of smokiness. A silky, medium bodied number with a hint of minerality on the finish. Despite the fact that the alcohol level was 14%, the alcohol didn't assault my palate or nostrils. This wine had jumping acidity and was great on it's own but I'm not sure if it was necessarily food friendly. I had some chicken with it and it didn't really add anything to my enjoyment of dinner. This is a very fruity wine but it's not subtle. And that's the difference between Old and New World, big fruit in your face but none of the finesse or subtlety of a red Burgundy. Which isn't to say I didn't like this pinot, I did. It's no Burgundy clone and it's a great example of New World pinot that won't break the bank. 

RRP £8.99

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Miller's Gin and Fever Tree Tonic

Usually I stick to writing about wine but this past weekend a rep from Martin Miller's Gin was in the shop giving out samples. Now, I'm not a big fan of gin and tonic so I was a bit dubious of trying his gin but I screwed up my face and gave it go.

In my mind, G&T's conjure up the taste memory of a bitter, artificial tasting cocktail that smells like cheap, citrusy perfume. I'll gulp down a G&T if that's all that's available but generally steer clear of them.
That is until this last Saturday. Martin Miller's gin is an English gin that was created by 3 guys in Notting Hill, west London. After some trial and error, they came up with a citrusy, crisp, smooth, clean gin, that just smells cool.
They use only quality botanicals and it's distilled in the Black Country before being shipped to Iceland (!) to be mixed with lava-filtered spring water. The bottle is all sleek lines flaring out at the bottom. It kind of reminds me of a cricket bat. I think that game has affected me somewhat.

The mixer was another quality product, Fever Tree tonic water. If you check out the ingredients on most commercially sold tonic water, the main ingredient used to add sweetness is either artificial sweetener or high fructose syrup which either leaves that horrible aftertaste or a sugary gloopiness. No wonder I don't like tonic. Fever Tree only uses all natural ingredients, cane sugar and spring water. That's it. No artificial sweetners, flavourings or preservatives.

Put the two together and this gin and tonic was like no other I had ever tasted. Cool, refreshing, tasty, no cloying, bitter, artificial sweetner aftertaste, just a long, tall, icy libation rejuvenating me for the afternoon ahead. Everything a G&T should be but so often is disappointingly not...fabulous!

Sunday, 13 July 2008

European Wine Bloggers Conference

As you can tell by the little badge to the right there, I'm a member of OpenWineConsortium. I love logging onto this site to see what's going on in the wine world, what's new and what people are talking about. I'd say that there are a fair amount of wine bloggers out there and the good folks of OWC have decided to put on not one, but two conferences for us wine bloggers. The American Wine Bloggers Conference and (just so we don't feel left out over here on this side of the pond) The European Wine Bloggers Conference

The idea was hatched sometime last year by bloggers Ryan Opaz from Catavino and Robert MacIntosh of The Wine Conversation both of whom deal with Spanish wines. Hmmm...I wonder if that's why the first European conference is in Logroño, Spain? Well, any excuse to visit Rioja is fine by me. 

Looking at the schedule of events, it looks like a great opportunity to discuss the issues that affect us as bloggers, from blogging standards to monetization. Not to mention a flurry of wine tastings and on the last day, a round of visits to the local bodegas.  I'm really hoping I can make it but if not, I'm sure we'll be hearing plenty about it on OWC. 

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Spanish whites for the summer

I know it may seem cliched to say that I only drink white in the summer but I do seem to gravitate towards them once the thermometer starts heading up past 75 degrees F. and the sun starts making (almost) daily appearances.

Since I'm always on the lookout for new and different wines, I ran across these two Spanish examples, Pleyades Macabeo 2007, DO Cariñena and Ermita Veracruz Verdejo 2006, DO Rueda, the other day and snapped them up. I tend to get a bit excited when I try something new, there's always that frisson of discovery and expectation. And, I have to say, these two were excellent examples of crisp, dry, unoaked, perfect-for-a-sunny-day wines.

The DO Cariñena is situated to the west of Catalunya in northeastern Spain and is probably better known for its red wines then its whites but this macabeo was a real charmer.
Macabeo is usually used as one of the three varieties blended to make Spanish cava. Here it's allowed to strike out on its own as a still white wine. The colour alone signals that this is a wine that doesn't take itself too seriously, being a shade of pale lemon. I wouldn't say this was an overly complicated wine either but it was crisp and fresh with a nice nose of lemon and pineapple, very clean with a nice bit of weightiness on the palate. I detected plenty of bright, cripsy citrus flavours and a good finish. I found this a very enjoyable wine to drink out in the garden or at the

Retail £6.99

Whereas macabeo is primarily known as a blending grape, verdejo wines are quite well known and the DO Rueda is justly famous for the verdejos it produces. The Ermita Veracruz Verdejo 2006 is an good example of whites from this region. My nose was greeted by lashings of grapefruit, orange peel and white flowers along with a streak of minerality underlying it all. After giving it a good sniff I took a sip and was delighted to find a striking
herbiness, a bit of mint and a citric finish with just a whisper of bitterness at the end. If you're tired of the same old sauvignon blanc and looking for something with a bit of zing, then this wine is for you. It'd be great with a platter of fried seafood or calamari with plenty of lemon squeezed on top. Delish...
13.5% alc
Retail £7.99

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Vineyard in the City

London doesn't automatically spring to mind when one thinks of growing vines but the good folks from McGuigan Vineyards in Adelaide Hills, Australia have transplanted some to the heart of the City (check out the site here). The vineyard will be open for 3 days (July 9 -11) and admission is free, although there will be a Cellar Door Shop where you can purchase all the lovely wine you've sampled. 

I think it's a cool idea, transplanting a vineyard and giving people a taste of what it's like to hang out with the grapes. The vineyard is situated  at the Broadgate Arena which is right next to Liverpool St. Station. The winemakers, Brian McGuigan, Neil McGuigan and James Evers have set up a miniature vineyard and will be around to answer questions, talk about the winemaking process and of course, give out samples of their wine. Due to strict quarantine regulations, the vines are not actually from Australia, but the winemakers were able to gather 80 50-year-old Sauvignon blanc vines from across Europe and plant them in London.

It's a brilliant marketing tool and seeing as the Australians are rapidly losing marketshare here in the UK to other New World competitors, it's great to see Aussie innovation  coming up with eye-catching ideas like this one. 

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Bruno Paillard Vintage Champagnes

We tried 5 different champagnes in the Bruno Paillard masterclass held at the just opened Bluebird Wine shop. I've blogged previously about their non-vintage champagnes, now it's the turn of the vintage champagnes to go through the wringer. 

The house only releases vintage champagnes in what they consider exceptional years, of which there are two labels. The first one was the Bruno Paillard Brut Assemblage 1999. All the Assemblages spend 9 years on the lees before disgorgement and all the grapes come from a single vintage only. Another unique characteristic of the Assemblage is the label. Each vintage has an individually designed label by a modern artist. The house picks two words to describe the champagne and then asks the artist to create a label that reflects the words. The French artist Didier Paquignon was asked to do the '99 label. The two words picked to describe the '99 were tumultuous and warm. 

This champagne was certainly a bigger and fuller bodied champagne then the previous NV examples. It was a rich yellow in colour with a complex nose of biscuit, brioche, and butter with underlying fruit aromas of figs and apricots all rolling around together in the glass. I suppose you could say it was a bit tumultuous with various aromas vying for attention. On the palate it followed through with toast, butter, cream, and the full rich flavours of ripe apricots and a figgy caramel note with a lingering finish. The bubbles were fine and delicate. 

The last was the Bruno Paillard Nec Plus Ultra 1995. The origins of  this champagne came about because of two British journalists who asked Bruno why didn't he produce a single cuvee? And so the idea for the N.P.U was born. So far there have only been 2 NPU, the '90 and the '95 vintages. There are very strict criteria and only 9,000 bottles are produced. All the grapes must come from grand cru vineyards and must be from truly outstanding vintages. The grapes are pressed once before being put into used 100% small oak barrels for 9 months for their first fermentation.  The wine then rested on on its less for 10 years before disgorgement and then had a very low dosage of 4gr/ltr. This champagne can technically qualify as an ultra brut because the sugar level is so low. After disgorgement it spent another 15-18 months in the cellar before it was released. 

I was looking forward to this champagne and I was not disappointed. It was a beautiful starbright golden yellow with tiny but not persistent bubbles. The champagne was served in wine glasses which at first confused me but once I stuck my nose into the glass, I could see why they had chosen a wine glass instead of a flute. It had an extremely perfumed nose with tertiary aromas abounding. A slightly reductive nose, brioche, spice, ginger, hazelnuts and after a bit of time, aromas of eau de vie - marvelous! Very complex mouthfeel and tastes as well. It was a heady mix of oak, spice, brioche, and a diverse nuttiness followed by a hint of fruitness, candy apple and toffee being the predominate flavours I picked out. A great example of a vintage champagne. My only complaint was that the bubbles didn't hang around for long. It could have been because we were drinking out of wine glasses instead of flutes but nonetheless, a fine example of vintage champagne. 

Bruno Paillard Brut Assemblage (£52 retail)
Bruno Paillard NPU (£120 retail)

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Bruno Paillard Champagne (NV)

I attended a masterclass the other day at a new wine shop that has recently opened within the Bluebird Cafe/Restaurant complex. Bluebird, on the King's Road in Chelsea, has been around for about 10 years but has recently undergone renovations and has now had an epicerie and wineshop added to the premises. 

Bruno Paillard is a small, young champagne house that has only been producing since the early 1980's. To start a champagne house in the last 20th century was considered  madness by the Champenois but through hardwork, perservence, a dedication to selecting only the best grapes from independent growers and strict controls on the winemaking process, he has managed to produce some truly amazing, fine, delicate champagne. 

The house trademark of all their champagnes is low dosage (whereby bottles are topped up with sweetened  wine after the second fermentation - read more here. ) Most brut champagne has a dosage of around 12 grams per liter, Paillard champagnes have an average of 6-8 grams per liter. The philosophy behind this is to produce wines that highlight the freshness of the 
wines, while at the same time allowing the purity and balance of the champagne come through. 

The first champagne was their Premier Cuvee Brut NV (8gr/lt). The house only uses the first pressings for all of their wines to ensure that only the purest juice is used. This sample was a blend of Chardonnay, P.Noir and P.Meunier. A pale yellow in colour with tiny bubbles spiraling up the glass. Zesty and light, citrusy-floral nose with hints of orange blossoms. Clean, fresh and with a youthful appeal but not bitter as some young champagnes can be, lemon-lime flavours on the palate with a long finish. This was a definite palate cleanser but not astringent or acidic, very well balanced. (retail £33)

We then moved onto the Blanc de Blanc Reserve Privee Grand Cru (6g/ltr). This champagne had spent 4 years on its lees and that was definitely evident on the nose as well as the palate. A fine yellow with flecks of green and pretty petite bubbles that bounced around my mouth. Aromas of brioche and a bit toasty with hints of apple and lemon. Those same characteristics followed thru on the palate as well as some grapefruit showing up towards the end. Most of the grapes used were from the '03 vintage, 100% chardonnay. 

The last NV we sampled was the Brut Rosé. This was a lovely pale, almost aged onion-skin paper colour verging on a pale salmon hue. It was such a beautiful colour, I almost didn't want to drink it but drink it I did and what a terrific rosé it is! First up were floral notes with hints of red plums and raspberries on the nose and persistent tiny bubbles rising up from the bottom of the glass. On drinking it, I found a rather delicate rosé but full of flavour - raspberries, red apple, plum and toffee apple on the finish. A very well structured, light and winsome rosé, unlike other rosé champagnes that too often can be heavy and cloying. This has proved a rather successful rosé for the house, consisting of 8%  of their production. (£43 retail)

Next up the Vintage stuff....

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Cricket and Teres Rosé in Regent's Park

I was introduced to the mysterious (for an American) game of cricket last weekend. My friend Ayesha's husband plays occasionally in Regent's Park and they invited me down one sunny Saturday afternoon to while away the day at the cricket pitch. Despite Ayesha's best efforts to explain the game to me, I'm still mystified as to why is has so many devotees. 

The real reason I went was to have a chat with Ayesha, enjoy the sunshine and the lovely rosé that I had brought along. I stopped by Wines of the World  in Earlsfield to pick up a bottle. WotW is my local but I rarely stop in, even though they have a great selection of wines to choose from, probably because I get home so late from work that they are usually closed when I pass by. 

I chose a rosé from Provence, more precisely, it was a Vin de Pays des Maures, which is a relatively new (in existence for about 7 years) VDP in Provence. The wine is from the well known producer, Ch. du Rouet. The Teres 2007 (12.5% alc),  is their entry level rosé. It's a blend of primarily grenache with a bit of cinsault thrown in for balance. The vineyard is situated on the Mediterranean coast allowing the grapes to enjoy the sea breezes coming off the sea. This in turn keeps the grapes cool and the sugar levels low producing light, dry, yet fruity wines. 

The wine was a  pale pinky/salmon colour, it didn't have very intense aromas on opening, we detected wafts of raspberries and red fruits emanating from the plastic cup (hey, we were in the park). Drinking it was a delightful surprise. Strawberries and cream, raspberries, sour cherries, full of fruit but crisp and smooth. It effortlessly slipped down our throats. A perfect wine for a summers' day in the park. It was so easy to drink we couldn't believe how fast the bottle emptied. 

Oh well, it was a good thing we polished it off quickly because about a quarter of the way thru the cricket game a player's nose was smashed by a bouncing cricket ball. Blood everywhere and high drama. We thought his nose was broken but he escaped with cuts and a sore nose. I did, however, have to sacrifice the ice pack that I was using to keep the rosé cold, maybe that's why we drank it so fast. Maybe not.

(Retail £6.99)